News: Adam Wainwright picks up sought after Silver Slugger

What happened. St. Louis Cardinals’ pitcher Adam Wainwright named by Louisville Slugger as the best hitting pitcher in the National League in 2017.

The story. The “Silver Slugger Award” is presented by Louisville Slugger to the best offensive player at every position in the American League and the National League. The winner is determined by votes from managers and coaches.

The numbers. Adam Wainwright posted a slash line of .262/.279/.452 with a pair of doubles and a pair of home runs in 42 at bats this season. He led all Cardinals pitchers in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, runs scored, and tied for the lead in runs batted in.

On April 21st against Milwaukee, he went 2-for-3 and hit a two run home run to put the Cardinals on top 2-1. And then hit a two RBI single in the next inning to stretch the lead to four runs.

His next home run came on June 1st against the Dodgers. He hit a two-run home run to put the Cardinals on top 2-0 and the score would stay that way.

On July 22nd against Chicago, he only went 1-for-3, but that hit broke up a perfect game bid by Jon Lester in the sixth inning.

Wainwright led the his fellow pitchers in runs scored, batting average, slugging percentage and tied with Cardinals’ teammate Carlos Martinez in runs batted in with 11. He was second in home runs behind Madison Bumgarner, who started just 17 games this season.

He had a .462 batting average this season with runners in scoring position.

Over the past two seasons now, Wainwright has hit .231/.252/.452 with 9 doubles, a triple, 4 home runs, and 29 RBI in 119 plate appearances. Projected out to 600 plate appearances, that puts Wainwright on pace for 45 doubles, 5 triples, 20 home runs, and 146 RBI.

The impact. 3/10. This was an award that Wainwright had spoken of wanting to win many times.

Wainwright becomes the third Cardinals’ pitcher to win a Silver Slugger Award since they began giving out the award in 1980, joining Bob Forsch and Jason Marquis.

News: Wainwright to undergo surgery

What happened. It was confirmed that RHP Adam Wainwright will have surgery to remove a cartilage flag from his right elbow today.

The story. Wainwright struggled down the stretch with pain in his elbow that he called similar to an issue he had after the 2014 season. Unlike in 2014, Wainwright was not able to pitch through it and he believes it contributed to a bone bruise and his diminished velocity this season. He admitted that it had bothered him since a July 22nd start against the Cubs. Following that game he went to the disabled list with a back injury.

The numbers. Despite Wainwright’s 12-5 record and the team posting a second-best 15-8 record in his starts (behind Luke Weaver‘s 8-2 team record), Wainwright endured the worst season of his career. His 5.11 ERA, 4.29 FIP, 1.50 WHIP, 10.2 H/9, 1.0 HR/9, and 3.3 BB/9  all career highs numbers.

The impact. 1/10. The impact here is negligible since we already knew that he was probably going to need surgery to remedy the problem. The real key will be whether this will actually help improve his performance next season. With his performance this year and the fact that it demonstrably had an effect, it certainly can’t hurt.

At 36, Wainwright is the old dog in this rotation. If the Cardinals’ plans to “go young” remain in tact, he looks like he will have ten years over the next oldest pitcher in the rotation. Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha are both 26, Luke Weaver is 24, and Jack Flaherty, who is the odds on favorite to be the fifth starter next year, will be 22 in a couple weeks.

Wainwright will be in his “age 36” season next year, as defined by Baseball-Reference. There was only one starting pitcher in 2017 who was in their age 36 season and made over 10 starts. That was CC Sabathia who posted a 3.69 ERA and 14-5 record in 27 starts for the Yankees. Hopefully that comparison bodes well for Wainwright, since Sabathia too has had to overcome his own struggles in recent years and managed to put together a good year.

News: Cardinals place Adam Wainwright on DL

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals placed RHP Adam Wainwright on the 10 day disabled list with a right elbow impingement and recalled RHP Mike Mayers from Triple-A  memphis.

The story. Adam Wainwright existed last night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates early after allowing five runs on 55 pitches in three innings. While speaking with the media after the game, he mentioned that he couldn’t get his arm loose and had a pinching sensation in his elbow when he tried to throw. He compared it to discomfort he had felt and pitched through in 2014 before having surgery to remove bone spurs that winter.

The numbers. Wainwright has made 23 starts this season and has a career highs in ERA (5.12) and FIP (4.27) over his 121 innings. Regardless of the struggle, however, he has managed to win as he leads the team with 12 wins and the Cardinals are 15-8 in games where he takes the mound. That is the best record among Cardinals starting pitchers.

Mike Mayers, 26, will get his third trip to the Majors this season. While he has managed to pitch well in Memphis, he has struggled to find traction in the Majors and has allowed runs in each of his relief appearances. He has pitched four innings and allowed two earned runs on four hits and three walks.

The impact. 7/10. While I want to dismiss the loss of Wainwright for a couple weeks as a benefit to the team given his ERA, the fact that the Cardinals still win when he pitches gives me pause. He has pitched through this his last three starts and has had a noticeable decrease in velocity.

The severity of the injury is not yet known and he will return today to St. Louis for additional medical tests. While it’s pure conjecture at this point, you have to think there is a real possibility that he will be done for the season.

The club likely turns to Luke Weaver to make Wainwright’s next start. Weaver is the guy that is expected to take over Lance Lynn‘s rotation spot next season, so it will be a good cameo opportunity for him.

Five things about the Reds Series

The Cardinals scored their first road series win since June and their first against a divisional opponent since April by taking two out of three from the Reds over the weekend. The Cardinals end the series 55-56 and 3.5 games out of the NL Central lead in third place. They’ve been 3.5 games back before, but haven’t been closer since June 13th when they finished the day 2.5 games behind.

Heading into the series against the Royals, the Cardinals have lost in their last five attempts to reach .500. So they’ll have to shake that bogeyman.

Wainwright just wins

Adam Wainwright struggled on Sunday as he allowed 4 hits and 5 walks over 3 innings of work as he earned the quick hook. But that didn’t stop the Cardinals who piled on some offense including a 9 run 4th innings.

The short outing left Wainwright’s season long ERA at 5.00, but the team is 13-9 in games started by him this season. That’s a .591 winning percentage, or in other terms, a 96 win pace.

The crazy part is that this is that Wainwright has just one season with a worse record. Over his career with the Cardinals, the team is 177-99 in games he starts, that’s a .641 win percentage, or in other terms, a 104 win pace. The team went 16-16 in his first season back from Tommy John surgery in 2012, but every other season except his first in the rotation has seen the team post a greater than .600 winning percentage in games he starts.

He has the best team record among Cardinals’ starting pitchers, and with the Cards winning behind Lance Lynn on Saturday, he joined Wainwright as the only Cardinals pitchers with a winning team record in games they start.

The hottest hitter on this team is…

Jose Martinez. Since the All Star Break, Martinez is hitting .318/.500/.773 with 3 home runs in 12 games, six of them starts. His latest feat coming with a grand slam while batting cleanup against the Reds on Sunday afternoon. But if there’s a player swinging a hot bat and pushing for more playing time right now, it’s Martinez.

Another player pushing for time is…

Greg Garcia. Since the All Star Break, Garcia is hitting .320/.433/.480 in 17 games, six of them starts. His emergence has come at a welcome time as Cardinals’ third baseman Jedd Gyorko has struggled since the calendar turned to July. Since the break Gyorko is hitting just .176/.241/.243 for the Cardinals.

It’s amazing what happens when you don’t abuse relievers

Before Sunday’s game, Mike Matheny spoke to the media about Trevor Rosenthal and how not pushing him and watching how they use him has really helped. It’s amazing what happens when you don’t run your relievers ragged. I wrote a couple years ago about the difference in the Cardinals’ relievers when they pitch with no rest versus a day or more of rest. Most relievers become no better than the rest of your bullpen on back-to-back days.

And it’s not like Matheny hasn’t had a deep bullpen to give these guys proper rest either.

Brett Cecil: Long Reliever

The last two times that Matheny chose to quick hook his starter, he has turned to Brett Cecil to bridge the gap. Most recently on Sunday, he came in in the fourth inning and pitched three shutout innings for the Cardinals. After a rough start, Cecil has rebounded quite nicely, posting a 2.23 ERA and 1.08 WHIP since May 19th, allowing the opponent to score in just four of his 32 appearances.

Cardinals activate Adam Wainwright

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today this morning that they have activated RHP Adam Wainwright from the disabled list for today’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. In a corresponding move, the Cardinals placed LHP Kevin Siegrist on the 10 day disabled list with left forearm tendinitis.

Wainwright, who went on the disabled list on June 25th for mid-back tightness, has been one of the Cardinals’ most troubled starters this season and is the only one of their primary five who has posted a below league average ERA+. Despite all of that, he leads the Cardinals with 11 wins and the team is 12-8 in games he starts.

Over his previous five starts, Wainwright is 4-0 with a 3.73 ERA. He missed two starts while on the disabled list.

He will make his second start of the season in Great American Ballpark against Cincinnati today. In that start on June 6th, he went 3.2 innings and allowed 9 earned runs.

This is Siegrist’s second stint on the disabled list this season, spending three and a half weeks in late June and early July on the DL for a cervical spine strain. This time it is a left forearm strain.

Siegrist has struggled this season with a 4.98 ERA in 39 appearances. Since he returned from his previous DL stint, he has a 5.14 ERA in 7 appearances, but all four runs he allowed came in the same appearance. He last pitched on Thursday, throwing a perfect 7th inning with two strikeouts.

Five things about the Mets Series

The Cardinals took two out of three against the New York Mets to wrap up their first half at 43-45. They are tied for second place with the Chicago Cubs and are 5.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers.

After the break, they will play a three game set in Pittsburgh against the Pirates. They hold a 4-2 record this season against the Pirates, but have yet to play them in PNC Park.

DeJong’s historic series

For Paul DeJong, it wasn’t just a great series, it was a historic one. DeJong went 9-for-12 (.750) with four doubles and three home runs in a three game series against the Mets. That made him the first Cardinals’ player in Major League Baseball’s modern era to record 6+ extra base hits in a three game series.

On Saturday afternoon, DeJong went 4-for-4 with three doubles and a home run. That made him just the 7th Cardinals player since 1913 to record three doubles and a home run in the same game.

It puts a nice cap on DeJong’s return to the big leagues as he’s gone from Kolten Wong‘s injury replacement to the starting shortstop while hitting .345/.370/.701 with 8 home runs since returning to the big leagues on June 15th.

Wainwright gets his 10th win

Adam Wainwright allowed one run over 6 2/3 innings on Saturday afternoon to pick up his tenth win of the season. That has many fans scratching their heads since Wainwright has the worst season long numbers in the rotation and that brings the typical roar that pitcher wins are a meaningless statistic.

And while I disagree with they are meaningless, I will go as far as to say that they are greatly overrated. The only reason they aren’t meaningless? The object is to win the game, after all.

Forget pitching decisions, the Cardinals are 11-7 (.611 winning percentage) this season in games that Wainwright starts. No other starting pitcher has a winning team record in games they start. The next closest being Michael Wacha at 8-8. If nothing else, this should tell us that his 5.20 ERA is not the whole story.

In his 10 win decisions this season, Wainwright has a 2.70 ERA. In his five loss decisions this season, Wainwright has a 13.70 ERA. So when Wainwright is good, he’s very good. When Wainwright is bad, he’s very bad with those numbers being buoyed up by a pair of 9 earned run starts where he didn’t make it through four innings in either.

As @StlCrdsfn11 pointed out on Saturday on Twitter, Wainwright has allowed four runs or less in 14 of his starts and two runs or less in 10 of them. That mirrors the results of Carlos Martinez, who we are all ready to crown ace of the rotation.

Lynn makes no mistakes

After a quality start to the season, Lance Lynn has struggled a bit more recently thanks to the long ball. After posting a 2.04 ERA while allowing a home run ever 8.8 innings in his first six starts of the season, Lynn posted a 4.95 ERA while allowing a home run every 3.8 innings in his next eleven starts. He was able to keep the mistakes to a minimum while throwing seven scoreless innings and keeping the Mets in the park.

Pham responds to challenge

With the three Opening Day outfielders back on the Cardinals’ 25 man roster, Tommy Pham is seeing the first real challenge for playing time since his call up in May. He went 3-for-3 with a home run on Sunday afternoon to close out his first half at .299/.386/.510.

When Mike Matheny and the Cardinals dance around how they intend to divvy up playing time in the second half, Pham takes no prisoners in his response. He was asked about it and STL Baseball Weekly wrote about it. Pham is having none of it. He has been the Cardinals’ best outfielder this season and is not afraid to say it.

Brewers leading at the All Star break

The Milwaukee Brewers will lead the NL Central at the All Star Break. They have been in first place at the All Star break four times in their franchise history and half of those times, the Cardinals ended up winning the division. Further, the pattern works.

In 1982 the Cardinals won the World Series. In 2007 they did not. In 2011 they won the World Series. In 2014 they did not. In 2017? Well, the pattern seems to indicate that this is the Cardinals’ year.

Bonus: Electric cars don’t run on home run power

Dexter Fowler returned to the lineup on Friday night, batting third, and hit a home run. It was nice to see in his return to the lineup, but it had more meaning than just that. Here’s why:

https://twitter.com/aliyafowler/status/883495061576708096

He does not seem to be missing this opportunity either, as Aliya added on Saturday that Dexter had registered at Tesla’s website with her name.

Five things about the Pirates Series

The Cardinals dropped two out of three against the Pirates, winning on Sunday night to avoid a sweep. However, they still haven’t won a series against anyone except the Phillies in over a month. Thanks to the Brewers doing their part, the Cardinals remain just five games back in the NL Central at 34-40, but are now in fourth place behind the Pirates.

The Cardinals will play a make up game tonight in St. Louis against the Reds before heading out to Arizona for a three game set against the Diamondbacks.

Seeking an energy change

John Mozeliak told the Post Dispatch that he was seeking an energy change on Sunday and with the callups of Randal Grichuk and Luke Voit is hoping to have done that. Grichuk went 2-for-5 on Sunday night with a home run to open up the inning that the Cardinals tied up the game and Voit took seven pitches during a pinch hit appearance before being hit.

Time will tell if that’s what happened, but the Cardinals played one of their most complete games of the season offensively on Sunday. Every player who came to the plate last nigh reached base at least once.

Voit gets historic HBP

As I noted, Luke Voit was hit by a pitch in his first MLB plate appearance. With that he joins Xavier Scruggs, Dmitri Young, Jerry Buchek, and Austin McHenry as the fifth Cardinal to be hit by pitch in their MLB debuts.

But Voit is probably the first Cardinals player to ever be hit by pitch in his first MLB plate appearance.

Only McHenry remains a possibility, but there is not play-by-play data for 1918, so all we know is that he went 0-for-2 with a HBP in his debut.

Cecil back on the horse?

Brett Cecil struggled mightily to open up the season, but in the Pirates series he made two appearances and allowed zero baserunners over the 1.1 innings he pitched. He has now not allowed a run in 15 of his last 16 outings and has a 0.68 WHIP.

Over his last 8 appearances since he allowed four runs to the Reds, Cecil has thrown 8 innings and allowed just three hits and no walks.

His season ERA is down to 4.08 and with another scoreless inning, will drop below four for just the second time all season.

Waino is bueno… at home?

Adam Wainwright started the season opener on Friday night and pitched seven strong innings, allowing two runs on two hits and two walks. In the midst of the worst season of his career there is a statistical oddity. In 8 home starts this season, Wainwright is 5-1 and has a 2.64 ERA. Compared to his performances on the road where he is 2-4 with a 9.48 ERA in 7 starts, that’s a radical difference.

Yadi’s streak continues

Yadier Molina‘s hitting streak was extended to 11 games as he’s battled some nagging injuries and only played in one game of the Pirates series. He extended it in authoritative fashion though, going 3-for-4 with an RBI and scoring all three times he reached base. He is now batting .333/.333/.556 with 3 home runs over his 11 game streak.

Five things about the Orioles Series

The Orioles were 10-20 entering this past series at Camden Yards and with a series against the Phillies coming up next, the Cardinals seemed poised to put some wins on the board. But that would not be the case in this series. After blowing out the O’s by 9 runs on Friday night, the Cardinals were outscored by 11 runs over the remaining two games of the series. The result was another lost series and a missed opportunity.

The Cardinals now find thesmelves 31-37 and 5.5 games back in the NL Central. They get a day off before heading to Philadelphia for a three game set this week. Since they won a series against the Cubs on May 14th, the Cardinals have won just one series, the one last weekend against the Phillies.

If not leadoff, then…

When the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler to a 5 year, $82.5 million deal this winter, it was to have him bat leadoff and move Matt Carpenter to the third spot. But after 56 games, the Cardinals pulled the plug on that experiment and moved Carpenter back to lead off. Since then though, Fowler’s bat has come alive as well.

In 11 games since being moved to the second spot in the lineup, Fowler his batting .395/.465/.842 with 5 home runs and 14 RBI. He has hit a home run now in four straight games to bring his season total to 13, which is what he hit all of last season for the Chicago Cubs. He is on pace for 31 home runs, which nearly doubles his previous career high of 17.

One has to wonder if Fowler, who has talked about how Barry Bonds has indicated that he could be a #3 hitter, might actually be the middle of the lineup threat the Cardinals have wanted. He has the tools and apparently has the power.

DeJong comes back strong

After slumping to the tune of a .154 batting average over his final seven games with the Cardinals before being sent back to Memphis, Paul DeJong turned the corner when he returned. Speaking of being a bit overwhelmed by his first trip to the Majors, the two days back in the minors before being recalled after Kolten Wong hit the disabled list again provided him an opportunity to take a breath.

In his second game back and first game of the series, DeJong went 3-for-4, with three runs scored, a home run, and 3 RBI. He backed it up going 1-for-3 with another two run homer on Saturday along with his first career MLB walk. Over the three game series he went 4-for-11 with 2 home runs and 5 RBI along with 4 runs scored.

Cecil changes his numbers

After spending eight seasons in the American League East with the Toronto Blue Jays, one could say that Brett Cecil is comfortable at Orioles Park at Camden Yards. He also might have been a little more comfortable after slipping into his new #27 jersey, making the change after the number recently became available following the release of Jhonny Peralta.

Cecil would post back-to-back perfect outings of 1 inning on Friday and Sunday, just the second time this season he’s posted back-to-back perfect outings of at least 1 inning pitched.

He was also one of two Cardinal pitchers to pitch in the series and not allow a run. The other was Trevor Rosenthal.

In the last month, Cecil has a 3.09 ERA and 0.77 WHIP over 12 appearances and 11.2 innings pitched. His ERA is backed by four earned runs, all of which came in a disastrous June 7th appearance against the Reds. After a horrendous April and an even more horrendous start to May, he seems to be turning the corner.

Wainwright’s problems continue

Adam Wainwright posted a 6.37 ERA through his first seven starts this season and then put together a four start stretch that saw him allow just a single earned run over 26 innings of work for a 0.34 ERA. He seemed to be on the verge of putting it together and the timing coincided with a strong run he put together last season through the summer, but those seem to just be pipe dreams.

Wainwright allowed 9 earned runs without making it out of the second inning on Saturday, the second time in three starts he has been tagged for nine earned runs. Over his last three starts, opponents are batting .408/.500/.796 against him. Yes, that’s right, they’re getting on base 50% of the time.

Martinez is having a good year

Carlos Martinez went 6 innings and allowed just 1 run while striking out 8 during the Cardinals win on Friday. That puts him at a 2.86 ERA through 94.1 innings of work this season. He also has a 149 ERA+ and 2.8 Wins Above Replacement.

His 149 ERA+ is the 14 in baseball right now among starting pitchers who have started at least 10 games, and his 2.8 WAR is good for 10th. He has the 5th most strikeouts and faced the 11th fewest batters per inning.

He is on pace for 33 starts, 222 innings, and 252 strikeouts.

Those 252 strikeouts would be the most for a Cardinals pitcher since Adam Wainwright struck out 219 back in 2013. You have to go back to Bob Gibson in 1970 for the last time a Cardinals pitcher had more than 252 strikeouts in a season.

Five things about the Cubs Series

The St. Louis Cardinals took two out of three against the Chicago Cubs over the weekend, but their division lead still stands at a game, now over the Milwaukee Brewers. Their record now stands at 21-15, on pace for 94 wins.

The Cardinals now wait for the Boston Red Sox to come to town for two games on Tuesday and Wednesday for a rematch of the 2004 and 2013 World Series teams. The Red Sox won both series.

Cecil is not getting right

Brett Cecil threw 0.1 innings of work in this series, allowing a home run that ultimately proved to be the difference maker between a loss and taking the game to extra innings. Cecil allowed that home run to left handed batter Tommy La Stella, who had hit just 4 home runs over 209 MLB games and never against a left handed pitcher.

At this point Cecil has appeared in 20 games for the Cardinals and has a 5.79 ERA and 1.92 WHIP. He has allowed a run in each of his last four appearances and hasn’t had a clean inning (no runs, no hits, no walks) since April 28th, seven appearances ago.

He’s on pace for 90 appearances this season, which brings some question of whether recent troubles have been as a result of overuse.

Bottom line is that Cecil should be relegated to cleanup duty until he demonstrates that he can capably get batters out on a regular basis. He does not need to be seeing a close game.

Earlier this season, Mike Matheny talked about how “we need to play (Cecil) to get him right.” And his appearance on Friday night got me thinking, is Matheny saying that they need to play a player to “get him right” a kiss of death? I recall him saying that specifically about Mark Ellis, Mitchell Boggs, and Trevor Rosenthal through all of his struggles. At least in Rosenthal’s case, it was actually rest that corrected him as he had been pitching through an injury. He may have said that about Allen Craig too.

All this to say, Matheny should really stop saying that they need to play a guy to “get him right” because it does not have a very good track record.

Other than Cecil tho

The Cardinals’ bullpen not named Brett Cecil threw 7 innings in the Cubs series and allowed just two baserunners. One was a walk by Jonathan Broxton on Friday night and the other a hit off Seung-hwan Oh on Saturday afternoon.

At this point in the season, Cecil, Broxton, and Miguel Socolovich are the only three relievers in the Cardinals’ bullpen who have turned in below league average performances this year.

Fowler’s patience

Dexter Fowler may have gone 0-for-4 in his two starts and a pinch hit appearance in the series, but he also reached based a team high five times in the series (tied with Randal Grichuk), taking two walks in the series opener and another three walks on Saturday.

By taking a walk to lead off the game on Saturday, Fowler reached base to lead off a game for the first time since April 27th. He is batting .154 with a .214 on base percentage to open a game.

Wainwright turns in best start of the year

Adam Wainwright seemed to have found some of his old mojo and shut down the Cubs over 7 innings on just 4 hits and 4 walks while striking out 3 on Sunday while the Cardinals powered to a 5-0 victory to win the series. Wainwright also got his ERA on the season below 6. It was his best start of the season so far, but that bar wasn’t that high.

On May 18th last season in his 9th start of the season, Wainwright went 6.2 scoreless innings in his best start of the season up that point and brought his ERA below 6. That was the beginning of Wainwright posting a 2.84 ERA over his next 14 starts while the Cardinals went 10-4.

One can hope that this is the beginning of another such run.

Carpenter finally finds success against Arrieta

It’s often talked about how Matt Carpenter and Jake Arrieta are college friends from their time at TCU. Entering Sunday’s game, Carpenter was 0-for-28 in the regular season against Arrieta, but Arrieta made a mistake and the result was a 2 run home run. Carpenter will carry a 12 game on base streak into the series against Boston.

Bonus: Cards the best in baseball?

The Cardinals are 8-2 in their last 10 games and 15-5 in their last 20 games, both are the best mark in baseball.

Column: Cardinals will need better pitching to win in 2017

It’s not shock statement. If the St. Louis Cardinals are going to make a run at the Cubs in 2016, they will need to get better pitching. Just a season removed from having the best pitching staff in baseball, the Cardinals stumbled to 12th in 2016 with an ERA over one run worse. That difference was a key factor in the Cardinals going from a 100 win division champion to an 86 win team that missed out on the playoffs for the first time in six years.

And it isn’t like 2015’s MLB best pitching staff had everything go their way either. The team’s ace Adam Wainwright made just four starts before an Achilles injury in April cost him most of the season. But John Lackey managed to have a career year, Jaime Garcia showed why he was worth keeping around, and everyone learned who Tim Cooney was.

The 2016 pitching staff ran into trouble before the offseason even got into gear with Lance Lynn out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Once the season started, Wainwright still wasn’t right, Garcia ran into a wall, and Michael Wacha’s stress fracture recurred.

And if that wasn’t enough, the defense struggled to consistently make outs. The Cardinals were 25th in defensive efficiency last season, a measure of how often players reach base when a ball is put into play. For reference, the Cubs were #1.

For some pitchers, like Mike Leake, that struggling defense cost him what was otherwise one of the finest seasons of his career. For others, it was just fuel on the fire of their struggles.

Improving that defense was one of John Mozeliak’s goals this winter and, for the most part, that has been accomplished.

Randal Grichuk, newcomer Dexter Fowler, and Stephen Piscotty should be a better outfield than what the Cardinals had this past season. Kolten Wong should improve the defense up the middle if he can prove himself worth playing everyday and Aledmys Diaz, who played much better once he settled in, should continue to improve. Justin Turner could have made it even better, but I digress.

The defense isn’t perfect though, the Cardinals will have either Jhonny Peralta or Jedd Gyorko at third base. Neither present a tried and true plus defender and I’m on record that I’d rather see Matt Carpenter at third everyday and Matt Adams at first base.

While the defense should shape up to be better, the pitching staff will now need to do their part in 2017 if the team intends to make a run at the playoffs, much less a World Series. There are questions in the rotation and, much like the offense last season, plenty of clutter that sets the stage for some difficult decisions. But here’s why I think positively about the rotation.

The fifth starter. The Cardinals have very much played coy with who the fifth starter will be in 2017. By all accounts it seems like it will be a three way competition for the spot, though it seems obvious who should get the opportunity.

Michael Wacha represents the path of least resistance. He struggled last year with a 5.09 ERA over 24 starts and 3 relief appearances. He would miss a month late in the season after his stress fracture returned. The organization seems uncertain what to do with Wacha as they were rumored to have included him in a trade offer early in the winter. Mozeliak indicated that they may need to reset the expectations of him being a 200 inning starter and has also hinted that they could use him in a role similar to how the Indians used Andrew Miller in the postseason. So at least the appearance of an opportunity for someone else is there.

Trevor Rosenthal has also been said to be coming to spring training preparing to start. The former closer lost his job last season due to ineffectiveness, but it was long assumed that guaranteeing him the closer’s job was part of convincing him to accept a move to the bullpen. Now removed from the role, it looks as if the organization is going to give him an opportunity to start.

Regardless of where Rosenthal pitches, his problem the last few seasons has been consistently throwing strikes. Now four seasons removed from his last start, I believe that taking him out of the bullpen, where his body has become conditioned to relief, will exponentially increase his injury risk. That transition from long-time reliever to start is what I believe effective resulted in the end of Kyle McClellan’s career.

As a result of coming from the bullpen, Rosenthal will likely need to be put on an innings limit in the rotation. And in my opinion, if you’re going to consider a pitcher with an innings limit on him, it’s clear that the guy should be Alex Reyes.

I’ve been critical of Reyes in the past as I don’t see him as great a prospect as many others do mainly because of his control issues and lack of dominance in the minors. However, he got the call last season and proved me wrong. He’s still walking batters, but has managed to be effective enough. In 5 starts for the Cardinals down the stretch when the team needed him the most, Reyes was 2–0 with a 2.20 ERA.

If Reyes does end up being the pitcher that I expect he’ll be, the Cardinals should go ahead and squeeze every ounce of effectiveness out of him now before the batters figure him out.

Lance Lynn. Lance Lynn is returning after missing last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He was reportedly ready to begin a rehab assignment in September if the option had been available to him, but the organization opted to shut him down and let him have a regular offseason to prepare for 2017. That is a positive sign for the team who will be relying on him to play a critical role in their rotation.

He has before, posting a 2.87 ERA over 379 innings of work in the two seasons prior to his surgery. Lynn will be almost 18 months removed from his surgery, which bodes well for hopes in Lynn’s performance next season. The only question will be whether he can push through a full season of work.

The guy that first comes to mind is Adam Wainwright, who had the surgery in February 2011 and returned a year later to the rotation. It took Wainwright into May and maybe even June before he looked to have a good, consistent feel for his pitches again and wasn’t a reliable starting option until the second half of the season, posting a 3.13 ERA over his final 12 starts. However, Lynn will be further removed from his surgery than Wainwright was and hopefully further along in his recovery.

Mike Leake. As I wrote last September, Mike Leake had an undercover career year last year. He posted near career bests in walks per nine, strikeouts per nine, home runs allowed per nine, line drive rates, and ground ball rates. All the fielding independent metrics represented a guy who was having one of the best seasons of his career. Instead, he had the worst.

He was probably the greatest victim of the shoddy defense behind him last season. Opponents had a .321 batting average on balls in play last season compared to a .263 just a season before and up from a .292 career average entering the year.

But because of those issues, he also stands to gain the greatest benefit from a better defense. That’s the key to Leake’s success. He’s not the kind of pitcher who will go out and dominate you, though he did a few times last season. He’s Dave Duncan’s kind of guy. A pitch to contact and let the defense make plays kind of guy. And if that defense is making the plays, Leake will have a good year.

Adam Wainwright. Adam Wainwright is perhaps the biggest enigma in the Cardinals rotation entering 2017. He will turn 36 in August and has two years remaining on his current contract. He is coming off the worst season of his career, posting a 4.62 ERA over 199 innings and an 89 ERA+. However, I think there is much to be said about the fact he missed most of the 2015 season while recovering from an Achilles injury.

Wainwright’s worst two seasons have both come the year after missing the most, if not all, of the previous season with injury. Those coming in 2012 after Tommy John and then this year. He spoke in May about discovering a large difference in his leg strength as a result of the injury and set about correcting it. After he mentioned that, he had a 2.84 ERA over his next 14 starts.

From 2013 to 2015, Wainwright posted a 2.61 ERA over almost 500 innings of work. His 142 ERA+ over that span was the fourth best in baseball among starting pitchers who threw at least 450 innings. The three pitchers ahead of him on the list are Jake Arrieta, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. That’s good company.

Even if you add 2016 to the sample, he still stays in the top-25. Lynn is 28th on that list. The next guy I’m about to talk about is 26th. Three of the top-30 pitchers in baseball? I like that.

Carlos Martinez. The only bright spot for the Cardinals’ rotation last season was Carlos Martinez. He was also the only pitcher who started more than 5 games for the big league club and provide above average results. His 3.04 ERA, 135 OPS+ and 5.4 WAR made him one of the top pitchers in baseball and the heir apparent to Wainwright for the title of “ace.”

By ERA+, Martinez was the 15th best pitcher in baseball last season. Over the previous two seasons, he’s 8th on that list, tied with David Price. And Martinez is six years younger.

Martinez may never have the outright dominance of a guy like Kershaw, but Martinez took big steps this past season to mature into the kind of pitcher you want on top of your rotation. He can beat you in multiple ways, even if he doesn’t have his best stuff. In fact, I felt there were games last season where he seemed to get some sort of sick satisfaction at intentionally not using his best stuff and still beating you. That’s a pitcher.

To me, the ace of your staff is more than just the guy who is pitching the best at any given moment or any given year. He’s the guy who is pitching well and has the track record of it too. In that fashion, the only thing standing between Martinez and being that ace — and perhaps even throwing his name into the conversation of the best pitchers in the game — is doing it again.